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September 18, 2017

The Peoples' Produce Project Recognized as 'Best Practice' in Oswego County

MEXICO - This year marks the third growing season for the Peoples' Produce Project in Mexico. The all-volunteer venture was launched in 2015 by staff members of the Oswego County Department of Social Services (DSS) to help residents supplement their pantries with fresh local produce.

The project has now caught the attention of state officials as well. According to Gidget Stevens, director of assistance programs at DSS, "Representatives from the state's Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance were thoroughly impressed with the idea and named it one of Oswego County's best practices."

Stevens will give a presentation about the endeavor at a roundtable discussion set up by the New York Public Welfare Association to share positive, working ideas among communities across the state.

"The People's Produce Project is an innovative way to get nutritious foods onto the tables of low-income families who might not otherwise be able to afford or have access to them," said Stevens. "The produce goes very quickly from the farm stand which is in a prime location and, for those who might not be very familiar with some of the items, we can offer creative uses and recipes as well."

Stevens added, "We really can't thank the staff enough for their commitment and passion for this project. They put in countless hours of hard work on their own time simply to provide something extra for the community."

Elaine Samson is a community service worker at DSS who coordinated the project with a dedicated team of volunteers and generous support from the community.

"We began with just four garden beds in our first year," said Samson. "Last year, we doubled it to eight, and this year, we raised the planters to provide better drainage for the plants, which yields a heartier crop. Every year, we learn a little something new and try different things to improve the garden."

Thanks to various improvements, the garden produced between 1,000 and 1,500 servings of vegetables this season, which benefitted hundreds of families.

This year's bountiful supply of vegetables included eggplant, zucchini and summer squash; peas, turnips, beets and parsnips; cucumbers, radishes, and sweet peppers. The gardens also included a variety of beans and tomatoes as well as an assortment of red and green leaf lettuces such as Swiss chard, romaine, and spinach.

The herb garden featured a wide selection of spices including dill, parsley, sage, sweet and lime basil, thyme, summer savory and rosemary. Nasturtium, an edible flower with a pepper-y taste, also colored the garden bed.

While some of the produce is finished for the season, there are still tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and carrots to be harvested, as well as the remaining spices in the herb garden. The latter will be distributed in large lots with information about how to preserve and use them over the winter.

"We couldn't have done this without the community's support," said Samson. "A number of businesses around the county have made generous contributions and offered discounts to help us get this project off the ground and keep it running. We've also had many volunteers who donated their time and expertise to improve and maintain the gardens throughout the season."

The businesses include Caster's Sawmill in Sandy Creek, Sturtz Excavating in Mexico, Fowler's Greenhouse in Hannibal, Ontario Orchards in Oswego, and Oliver Paine Greenhouses in Fulton.

In addition to Samson, the garden committee includes Adriana Ketchum, Marcia Birdsell, Lela Fuller, Heather Ladd, Maria Downey, Amanda Pulsifer, and Bob Ireland, who built a farm market stand to display the garden's harvest as well as the garden bed walls which were added this year. Many other DSS staff members contributed to the project through monthly fund-raising luncheons.

For more information about the project, or to make a contribution or volunteer, please call 315-963-5463.

KEEPING UP WITH THE GARDEN - Elaine Samson, a caseworker at Oswego County DSS and coordinator of The People's Project, works in the garden after hours to weed and water the crops. The project provides fresh produce to families and is recognized by the state as one of Oswego County's 'best practices.' Photo by Kelly Jordal.

A BOUNTIFUL HARVEST - The Peoples' Produce Project provides an abundant harvest for families in Oswego County. Bob Ireland, a caseworker at Oswego County DSS, built a farm market stand to display and distribute the produce. Photo by Elaine Samson.

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